Disconcerting quotations from Bishop Heiner Wilmer

The bishop of Hildesheim, Germany, who may still be named prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, recently published a letter stating that “it has become clear that we need significant changes in sexual morality in the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Heiner Wilmer, SCJ, preaching in May 2016. Pope Francis appointed Wilmer as Bishop of Hildesheim on April 6, 2018. (Image: YouTube screenshot)

Shortly before Christmas 2022, it seemed likely that Dr. Heiner Wilmer, SCJ, bishop of Hildesheim and a prominent proponent of the German “Synodal Way,” would be named prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in succession to Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, SJ. Bishop Wilmer’s statements on a number of doctrinal and moral matters drew the concerned attention of senior churchmen in Rome and elsewhere; these men, including the late Cardinal George Pell, made their concerns known to Pope Francis; and the announcement of Bishop Wilmer’s appointment, which was reportedly planned for December 19, did not take place.

The Wilmer appointment, however, remains a live option, according to Vatican sources. It thus seems appropriate to draw to the attention of all concerned a letter Bishop Wilmer sent to his diocese on March 13, shortly after the Synodal Way adjourned its final assembly after endorsing a new governing structure for the Church in Germany, liturgical blessings for same-sex “unions”, a reformulation of the Catholic ethic of human love, and the reconsideration of the admission of women to Holy Orders.

In his letter, Bishop Wilmer acknowledged that the divisions within German Catholicism “seemed to deepen more and more” along the Synodal Way, “the factions becoming more intolerant.” Yet the bishop did not comment on the obvious fact that the “gap between the synod members” was a chasm between those who believe that divine revelation is real and its authority binding over time, and those who believe the Church has the authority to correct divine revelation according to the more nuanced knowledge of the human condition that contemporary Catholics putatively possess, thanks to the Zeitgeist, the spirit of this age.

Rather, the bishop stated that his “task is to serve unity…in such a mixed situation” – a concept of episcopacy and its relationship to the truth of Catholic faith that would have puzzled St. Athanasius during his battle with Arianism, St. Augustine during his contest with the Donatists, St. Charles Borromeo during his heroic efforts to reform the archdiocese of Milan after the Council of Trent, and St. John Fisher while confronting the pusillanimity of his episcopal brethren in England at the time of King Henry VIII.

Can a local bishop who does not understand that his first responsibility is to teach and defend the settled convictions of the Church – what Pope St. John XXIII called the “Sacred Deposit of Faith” in opening the Second Vatican Council – adequately serve the universal Church as prefect of the curial office charged with precisely that same responsibility?

The bishop’s letter also includes a sympathetic narration of the distress felt by some during a September 2022 Synodal Way Assembly, when a resolution calling for the radical reconsideration of the Church’s ethic of human love failed to gain the necessary votes:

Women and men, younger and older, burst into tears, shaking their heads. Some just sat mute and petrified at their tables. Others jumped up, scolded, and gave vent to their disappointment. A small group met in the middle of the hall and quickly grew. People surrounded each other, put their arms over their neighbor’s shoulders, united in suffering together. Unnoticed by the crowd, a young woman collapsed in a corner of the hall, unconscious on the floor. She herself is a victim of sexualized violence in the Church; for years she had been abused by a priest. Did the Synodal Way fail in these dramatic hours?

That the German Church, like other local churches throughout the world, failed for years to get to grips with the grave sin and crime of clerical sexual abuse is not a subject for rational debate. Those failures happened; they inflicted deep and open wounds on the Mystical Body of Christ; transparency is essential about those failures and their causes (which include the collapse of discipline in post-conciliar seminaries and houses of religious formation and the deconstruction of Catholic moral theology in those years). But to weaponize the suffering of the victims of clerical sexual abuse in order to advance an agenda that progressive German Catholicism advocated for decades before the abuse crisis broke into public view is deplorable. Indeed, it is despicable.

Yet is that not precisely what Bishop Wilmer does when, later in his letter, he states that “it has become clear that we need significant changes in sexual morality in the Catholic Church.” Indeed, we do. But the entire context of the bishop’s letter suggests that what he means by “significant changes in sexual morality in the Catholic Church” is not a rebirth of chastity that includes a reaffirmation of the good of sexual love within the bond of marriage, but a change in teaching that affirms sexual relations which revelation and reason teach us are not life-giving, but morally and humanly harmful. Thus the bishop wrote that he “welcome[d] the fact that the Synodal Way is in favor of establishing a working group to develop a manual for blessing celebrations for same-sex couples as well as remarried divorcees.”

How can a bishop who welcomes this development lead a curial dicastery that recently declared that such blessings were impossible, as the Church cannot bless what is, objectively, sinful?

The bishop’s letter contains more curiosities. He celebrates the fact that, in the Diocese of Hildesheim, “we have begun to fill pastoral positions with people who have not studied theology or religious education but instead have [matriculated in] cultural studies, social pedagogy, or architecture.” Given the current state of German theology, this may perhaps be considered a blessing for the diocese. But it beggars the imagination that a bishop who seemingly demeans the importance of sound theology for effective pastoral work could be appointed the head of the Roman office that is charged with nourishing dynamically orthodox theology throughout the universal Church.

Even more amazingly, the bishop boasts that, in his diocese “the core area of private life is no longer subject to legal evaluation;” that this zone of inviolable privacy “includes, in particular, relationship life…;” and that “we have already made the corresponding changes…in the regulations for the conferral of the Missio Canonica with regard to teachers of religion.” Which is to say that people objectively living in grave sin, and thus not in full communion with the Church, can receive from Bishop Wilmer a canonical mission to teach as a Catholic religious educator.

How could such a bishop possibly be considered as prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith?

Concluding his letter, Bishop Wilmer urges the Diocese of Hildesheim to be open to “…the Holy Spirit, who surprises us again and again.” Yes, the Holy Spirit does that, and we should be grateful for it. But the Holy Spirit does not, because the Holy Spirit cannot, contradict what the Spirit has already taught the Church through divine revelation. That would not be a “surprise;” it would be the complete and utter dissolution of the Jewish and Christian concept of God.

If the appointment of Bishop Wilmer to the position once held by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is made, it would not only be a mortal insult to the memory and legacy of Pope Benedict XVI. It would mean that, in the next conclave, all the cards would be face up on the table, and there could be no denying that what is at stake in the next papal transition is the fidelity of the Catholic Church to divine revelation and the apostolic tradition.


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About George Weigel 496 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).

47 Comments

  1. The people this priest describes as breaking into tears and one passing out sound as though they have significant mental issues and need therapy . But that is not a good reason to change church teaching. It should be obvious that if such folk find catholic teaching unpalatable, there are literally thousands of super liberal churches where “anything goes”, which they can join. But such sexual excess should not be expected to be accepted by the faithful who know that such actions are in fact wrong and sinful.This is an exceedingly slippery slope, and I hope I am dead by the time there is a push for acceptance of polygamy and bestiality, or even, yes, pedophilia. Some prohibitions are pronounced by the church as wrong, period, and are NOT a matter of conscience to be decided by individuals.

  2. Bishop Wilmer is lip syncing the false wisdom dropping from the lips of Cardinal Hollerich, and from Bishop Bats-sing (who surely has a role in parceling out the state church tax).

    Why is one reminded, too, of the neighbor’s dog? Who, after having done his business on your front lawn, then does a 180 to kick grass over the droppings! Likewise, with the sexual abuse crisis in Germany–turn human sexual morality completely around so as to kick aromatic verbiage over recent history!

    Similarly, also invert the Vatican reminder that schismatic Germany is betraying the universal Catholic Church. In Wilmer’s very localized mind, the “task is to serve unity…in such a mixed situation.” The barking Wilmer asspires to be the “bark” of Peter!

    Neighborhood alert! Send Bishop Wilmer a doggie poop bag.

  3. Is the Roman Catholic Church serious about following Jesus?

    “Unity” means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING when it means unity with men and women who reject the commandments of Jesus, and unity with Bishops who would silently accept unity with apostates for the sake of counting heads.

    It is no surprise that the Church is now under the control of apostates, as reluctantly hinted at by Fr. Robert Imbelli in his essay “No Decapitated Body.”

    What is happening now, the open threat to officially promote and/or allow apostasy, is what happens when our Church started ordaining and promoting openly apostate Bishops in the 1970s, among these many openly apostate German Bishops, such as Walter Kasper, who denies the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

    On what possible grounds can our Catholic Church ask to be taken seriously, when its pontiffs have promoted and ordained apostate Bishops, granting apostolic teaching authority to outlaws who deny the Gospel and the Creed?

    On what grounds can the Church ask to be taken seriously?

    • Why would you ever believe that the Catholic Church could deny what She has always taught as if the 1960’s was the beginning of true Catholicism because this is exactly what Catholics have been deceived into believing? Since Vatican II the denial, doubt, ambiguity, and contradictions about so many of the dogmas of the faith is its modis operandi and none of this can ever be said about true Catholicism. These people are not members of the Catholic Church but members of a counterfeit church with an anti-Catholic religion as its foundation.

      • Yes and warning your neighbor of sin is loving your neighbor. It’s a spiritual work of mercy…recall ‘Go and sin no more.’

        Enabling sin, as the German bishops are doing, would be the opposite

      • Dear Kate:

        On further recollection, what you alluded to is a gloss of “The Greatest Commandment,” which is recounted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Matthew’s account, Jesus affirmed (in answering the lawyer) “the greatest and first commandment” is “You shall love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” And Jesus said that “the second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22) And in Mark’s account, Jesus ends by saying “There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12)

        Then recalling these accounts, Jesus is saying that these are greater than all of the other commandments, and thereby reminding us that there are other commandments.

        And in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew’s account (Matt 5), Jesus declared “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” And then Jesus set about to start adding even more commandments, as the law-giver who declared himself “greater than Moses.” And the commandments he gives are recognized to be very demanding, and hard to follow. For instance, Jesus declares: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt 5: 27-28) That is a very strict commandment, and is what Jesus commands about our sexual behavior, penetrating our very thoughts.

        And then Jesus adds another very demanding commandment: “You have heard it said: ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For if you love only those who love you, where is the reward in that? Do not even tax collectors…and pagans do that? Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

        In recollection, Jesus doles out a lot of very stern commandments, sexual-wise, and charity-wise, etc.

        As he recalls to us: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (in John)

        And it seems, therefore, that the Bishop called “His Excellency Wilmer,” and other Bishops like him, such as “His Eminence McElroy” and “His Eminence Hollerich,” etc etc etc, are “apart from Jesus.”

  4. The evil one’s greatest victory is within reach.

    A fitting end for a church that stood by while more than a billion children were being butchered over the past fifty years.

    Jesus, forgive us for our fecklessness and our hypocrisy.

    • Are you personally involved in any of this “fecklessness and hypocrisy”? Then what would you need Jesus to forgive you for? Isn’t it the responsibility of those who are involved in this fecklessness and hypocrisy to admit it, repent, and vow to sin no more so that then they may ask for Jesus’ forgiveness?

      • We’re all involved in one way or another. If we lie to ourselves to pretend we’re not, then that is one way in which we are involved.

  5. Bishop Wilmer pens a letter full of apostasy and error. Instead of being warned about his beliefs and told to take time off to reconsider his thoughts he will probably be promoted. Meanwhile, Catholics who hold to the truths of the faith which are pronounced unequivocally in the ancient mass are demonised and persecuted because the church hierarchy no longer holds to its theology. This is the chastisement Our Lady warned us about at Fatima, its only going to get worse. There will be a springtime in the Church, but it will come from the hands of Our Lady, not some council.

  6. Well, this guy certainly has Cardinal McElroy’s vote.
    Since the root cause of the Church sex abuse disaster was unquestionably gay priests preying on male adolescents, how can the German synodal embrace of gay relationships seriously be considered a response to or correction of that catastrophe?
    If all this leads to schism, so be it. I believe, In all humility, schism must be chosen over infidelity and apostasy.

      • There is no “spirit of Vatican II”. The documents are clear, you should read the documents, they do not include any of what is being promoted by this pontificate. The interpretations have been the issue and do not in anyway support Wilhmer.

  7. From direction of Catholic doctrine to indirection began with Francis’ unexplained dismissal of then CDF prefect Card Gerhard Müller’s three indispensable priest assistants, to revision of Curia order of primacy Propaganda Fide replacing the CDF.
    If Pope Francis had a rationale for the abrupt, unexplained firing of Müller’s priests, it can be reasonably explained in the prospective appointment of charlatan Bishop Heiner Wilmer. A Charlatan is The Pardoner in The Canterbury Tales who tricks sinners into buying fake religious relics. In this instance Pardoner Wilmer tricks sinners into buying fake legitimacy.

    • Well said as always Father. My discontent in reading Mr. Weigel columns these days stems from his failure to take on Francis directly. He knows full well of his many outrages and never says anything. I read all his books prior to his fantasies about “the next pope,” which seemed to have been written as though a return to stable orthodoxy is a near certainty. Criticisms around the edges do not suffice during the most ominous time in Church history.

      • “Criticisms around the edges do not suffice during the most ominous time in Church history.”
        A most appropriate comment.

  8. So either a confused stupid God, “still in the process of learning how to be God,” spread confusion and misery among His creation for thousands of years by instilling in them a natural sense of a coherent family unit upon which a greater society would be built but this Supreme Being was ultimately mistaken, or a mean sadistic God, interested in torturing His creation with endless moral confusion just for His own amusement, who led His creation to where it is impossible to understand right from wrong with the proper ordering of their biological nature, we now have, thankfully, theological minds, superior to God, willing to sort through God’s shortcomings.

  9. Martin Luther redux.

    Germany is a pagan country not least due to most Catholic bishops there having apostacized.

  10. It was within weeks that Bishop McElroy was elevated before he spoke the quiet part out loud regarding the synod on synodality, confessing it “gives the liberals in the church the opportunity to complete the revolution they began at Vatican 2”. I can’t help but ponder the message given by Our Lord to Sister Marie de St. Pierre that due to offenses against the Holy Name of God and the command to keep the Sabbath holy, the world would suffer the “chastisement of revolutionary men”. One year later, on the anniversary of this message, Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto. The world has suffered revolutionary men ever since. God help us and the church, “where else are we to go, Lord, only You have the words of eternal life”.

  11. Someone recently commented on CWR whether Papa should be asked if he is a homosexual! Perhaps we don’t need to ask. Papa’s silence is thundering on this heretical matter?

  12. This seems to me to be the same old … same old…pharisees vs Christ: Any new approach based on further knowledge frightens the bejesus out of the old school. As the RC church moves forward some will stay behind. Don’t old fashioned Jews still go to the Wailing Wall, hats, curls and all? The Tree of Life needs the unchanging trunk but that trunk would die too in the absence of new leaves bringing fresh sunshine, chemicals etc from leaf to root so that growth can continue.

    • So human beings never delude themselves and call it “new knowledge”. How are value judgments a question a “knowledge” in the first place? And how can God change His mind about truth? And when did Jesus ever contradict received moral truth? Don’t confuse morality with ritual now.

    • Speaking of new leaves…

      Genesis,,,And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply…

      Matthew…Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh.
      Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

    • Kate Grace, I didn’t have time the other day for a longer answer, but your understanding of the conflict of visions between Our Lord and the Pharisees is a reversal of Christian reality. Yours is a secular belief in inevitable progress based on a faith and trust in elitist superiority, the very thing the Pharisees, who were essentially more like secular progressives in their day than people of authentic faith, condemned Our Lord for undermining their dominant capricious rituals by His preaching the eternal, unchanging nature of truth. Progressives have always sought to reimage Jesus as one of them, as a revolutionary, when He is the exact opposite, the perfect reactionary, a non-elitist because He reminded us what is placed in every heart to know, that truth, all truth, is immutable because it comes exclusively from God, not from phony elitists. Our Lord’s preaching is a rebuke to the human vanity that needs to treat truth as fungible for those seeking the prestige of innovation or for those seeking to avoid impeachment from moral truths that never change.

  13. Bravo George! A devastating laying out of what is at sake here. If this man is indeed made head of what we used to call the CDF then all the cards, as you say, will truly be face up. There can be no hiding behind any of the usual fig leaves this time.

    • Come on, Dr. Chapp! “If this man” is elevated then the cards are face up? Are you kidding me? The cards are already face up, and they have been for 10 years. Only fools have either refused to see them or have pretended they are still face down. I agree with the comment above – Weigel and others go to great lengths not to address the real issue explixitly. And that issue is PF.

  14. Maybe the Protestants aren’t so crazy after all. In the face of all this craziness the only thing we can really trust is the Bible. Popes can dismiss previous magisterial teaching and reform the Catechism, but God’s Word is forever and unchangeable.

    • Hardly “unchangeable”. Besides all the hundreds of opportunistic translations that were made during and after the protestant “reformation”, a number of books of the Bible were dropped by the protestants. Why? They didn’t think they were “inspired”, since they disagreed with their content. For “unchanging scriptures” you go to the Vulgate, or even better, the oldest extant copies in Hebrew and Greek.

      • Ok. Even if that simplistic apologetical trope was true, what option do we have then? Where can one go for firm guidance? Surely not the liquid magisterium of the present pontificate. Sure I can quote past Church documents, but no one (including this Pope) cares. Have you ever listened to some apologists endlessly arguing Church documents (watch an old Gerry Matatics debate)? It’s mind numbing and soul crushing because at the end of the day one can simply say…the present Pope doesn’t believe or teach that, and there you are left standing there with a Church document that has been robbed of its authority by the supreme authority in the Church. It’s much harder to do that with the Bible. In these times, I’d rather stick with the Bible which we know is inspired by the third Person of the Holy Trinity. Notice when anyone wants to refute the German Bishops or Francis or question Biden’s reception of Communion they usually go straight to Scripture? Why? Because we implicitly know there is something very special about it and that its authority is unparalleled. So…when in doubt go to the Bible and in that perhaps the Protestants are on to something.

    • Yet protestants changed/change God’s Word. Indeed, Martin Luther wanted to remove God’s Word. Protestantism goes back to John 6 when disciples no longer walked with Jesus. The German bishops are doing the same thing.

      • Let me put it to you this way:

        Pope says X
        Bible says Y

        Who do you listen to? How you answer the question will determine what is the greater authority in your spiritual life…also notice that in this we know the Bible will never command anything that goes against God. Why? Because it is inspired by Him.

        • Nope the choice is….do I listen to God’s Word, which comes to us through Scripture, Tradition and the teaching Authority of the Catholic Church? Or….do I listen to a protestant’s unbiblical word of sola scriptura? I think I’m gonna go with God on this, thanks.

    • OK. But then we have the Pope himself saying that divorced and remarried Catholics can receive Communion in some cases, in clear contradiction of Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of Matthew and St. Paul’s admonition against receiving Communion unworthily. Even the plain language of Scripture is no impediment to those bent on fomenting revolution.

        • Scripture alone is not the answer, to begin with, which bible do you look too? The Protestant bible was deliberately amended to fit Luthers heresy, and is continually misinterpreted by Protestants to fit their own ideas, which is why there are thousands of Protestant sects. Stick to catholic bible, tradition.

      • That’s been done before too. The first Pope denied Christ three times! I’m certainly not defending this Pope but looking to protestants is not the answer.

    • If the Magisterium collapses, we won’t even be able to trust the Bible. It’s true meaning will be obscured. It will be interpreted in accordance with the spirit of the age and in a manner that fits with one’s preferences and prejudices, viz. it will mean whatever one wants it to mean.

  15. This seems to me to be the same old … same old…pharisees vs Christ

    Exactly! The Pharisees went wrong by placing man-made doctrines ahead of God’s revelation — just like the ‘Synodal Way’ crowd.

  16. “If the appointment of Bishop Wilmer to the position once held by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger is made, it would not only be a mortal insult to the memory and legacy of Pope Benedict XVI.”

    Correction – ANOTHER mortal insult.

  17. Let’s call a spade a spade. These are *heretics* in conversation with the devil. They are not to be listened to. The good news is that eventually, the bishops of the world will grow a spine, like the Spanish bishops. The heresy will be called out, and proper responses made.

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